Making Small Steps to Improve Your Horse Showing Journey
Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” This feels especially applicable to the horse show world. Indeed, many of our experts in recent articles have discussed how our experience as riders is more of a journey than a destination.
We spoke to top amateurs Allison Rassinoux and Heather Cote to get their perspectives on how to remain consistent and put your “best hoof forward” in your horse showing journeys.
Start With Small Steps
Often, it is difficult to make major changes in a short period of time, especially when dealing with a partner that doesn’t understand the end goal. Instead, you can work to build towards something big by starting with small steps.
Rassinoux admits, “I tend to get very anxious looking at the ‘big picture,’ so I have to take a step back and evaluate things in smaller ‘bullet points.’”
Rassinoux, who prefers showing in the Hunter Under Saddle, always has the goal to win when she shows. However, she understands this isn’t going to happen every time. Instead, Rassinoux focuses on setting “small goals or making small improvements” that will put her on a trajectory to have a chance at winning.
Allison uses the personal example of setting maneuver-specific goals in a pattern class, admitting, “I have struggled recently with my lead changes and coming down from the canter and getting the correct diagonal. By setting smaller goals of nailing those transitions, I feel that you can definitely build up to something bigger and better.” The key to working on them is consistent, frequent practice.
Cote says that accomplishing her dreams has been a process decades in the making. “I have spent 42 years working my way up the ladder based on what I could afford at the time. I began with average horses and smaller, more regional shows. And, after consistent work, I finally got to a point where I was able to get that nice horse and shoot for what I have been working for my whole life, Top Ten placings at every major AQHA show.”
Create a Plan to Stay On Track
If you don’t measure your progress, it’s difficult to stay consistent. Often, a plan to keep track of your progress will help you improve much faster.
Allison relies on her trainers to help her create a plan that is tailored to her own abilities and her specific goals, saying, “My trainer definitely knows what my goals are, and helps me to practice what I need to in order to achieve them.”
Her trainers will have her regularly practice maneuvers she struggles with in various scenarios to prepare her to execute them well in the show pen.
In order to accomplish grander, bigger picture goals, Rassinoux believes, “I have to be willing to put in the work, and hope that consistency, practice, and trust in the process will help me reach the top.”
Heather believes that life happens while you’re busy making plans for it. To avoid a constant revising of plans, she sets main goals and allows the interim goals/plans to shift based on circumstance. “I sit with my trainers at the end of each year and make a goal for the following year and hope it all works out,” she chuckles.
Make Better Use of Free Time
Everyone has the same amount of time every day. Learning to use your free time wisely can help you stay consistent.
Rassinoux truly loves being around horses and the sport and utilizes her extra time to soak in as much practice and knowledge as she can. “Any free time I have that I can get off of work, I can typically be found around horses. I enjoy studying patterns from shows that I do not even attend to see how and where I would perform the maneuvers, and try to come up with a second plan if something were to interrupt the first.”
This immersion into the sport and analysis at home helps her better prepare her mind at the big shows.
Give Yourself a Break When Needed
It’s inevitable you’ll get distracted and lose focus of what you want to accomplish. Rather than beating yourself up about it, learn from your mistakes and recommit to doing what’s required.
The sport of horse showing is a roller coaster of emotions. Rarely is someone riding a constant high and the valleys don’t last forever. Cote finds the most difficult aspect of the sport is “when things go wrong and you are kept from doing what you love most – showing your horse.” During these down times, it can be beneficial to hit the reset button and remember why you love the sport to begin with.
Allison finds giving herself grace to take a step back to recommit to her small goals can be an internal struggle, saying, “I am the poster child of beating myself up about little things. I have had to teach myself to stop comparing myself to others, as I have a tendency to psych myself out before I even go in the arena. Everyone is looking to win, but I feel that hard work and consistency will prevail.”
Rassinoux finds one way to be less hard on herself is to be genuinely happy for the team that does succeed in the class. “I am definitely a big advocate of cheering for and being genuinely happy for everyone – when it is your time, they will be there to hoist you up on their shoulders. If you make a mistake, you can be upset – the feelings are valid, but the trick (that I am still learning) is to be able to overcome the frustration and mental beat-down, and get back in the ring to try again.”
According to the US Military Intelligence School philosophy, “Consistency in your efforts leads to self-discipline, teaches you self-control, improves your overall personality, and builds momentum. When you are consistent, you have a sense of accountability and direction that translates into progress and success.”
The following equation is the best visual example of how putting in small, consistent efforts can have a major payoff over time:
(1.00)365 = 1.00
(1.01)365 = 37.7
If you adjust your focus to putting in the time and day-to-day efforts, you may not experience immediate gains, but you will find your own greater success over time. Stay motivated. Stay consistent. You’ve got this.